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As we celebrate International Women's Day, let's honor the women who provide volunteer leadership through their service on global, national, and regional nonprofit boards. And let's recognize the unique opportunity for younger generations of women to develop and contribute as leaders through nonprofit board service.

Boards have leadership authority in the nonprofit sector

Boards shape the missions, visions, strategies, fortunes, and ultimately, the success or failure of nonprofits. There are nearly 1.6 million nonprofits in the U.S. alone—organizations that provide education and health care, combat hunger and homelessness, protect human rights, preserve the environment, and make our lives more meaningful through the arts, just to name a few causes. Nonprofit boards have the full legal authority and responsibility for the organizations they serve.

Leadership opportunities for women: no glass ceilings on nonprofit boards

On nonprofit boards, the person who raises her hand and says, "I'll help with that," or "I'll organize that initiative," often gets to do it. There are an abundance of boards with no glass ceilings. Consequently, nonprofit boards provide extraordinary opportunities for women to engage at the highest levels of leadership—including as board chairs, vice chairs, secretaries of the board, treasurers, and committee chairs.

Highly talented women from diverse backgrounds and with varied experiences and areas of expertise lead boards in

  • envisioning the organization's greater potential
  • establishing the revenue model to achieve success
  • engaging with the senior staff to ensure that there is an effective organizational strategy and a measurement model to track progress, and
  • leading the board in fulfilling its role to accomplish the organization's purposes and vision

I encourage young women to take advantage of opportunities to engage on nonprofit boards where you believe in the mission and can add value. You will help advance a cause that is meaningful to you, develop yourself as a leader, and help make the world a better place.

On this International Women's Day, notice the women around you who serve and congratulate them. If you are in a position to encourage and mentor younger women to engage in service, do so. And if you are that younger woman who's been considering service, now's the time—you and the world will be the better for it.